Rodney Linares managed his Class A Advanced Lancaster team to a California League title last year without arguably his two most talented players -- shortstop Carlos Correa and right-hander Mark Appel. Now, he might get a shot with them in Double-A Corpus Christi.
The much-heralded Correa will debut in the Texas League after playing just 62 games in 2014 with Lancaster due to a fractured right fibula he suffered last June. This spring, Houston's top prospect impressed in Major League camp, batting .326/.370/.488 in 20 games with the Astros before being sent down.
"Carlos has an opportunity to become an elite player in the big leagues," Linares said. "He's got not only the tools, but the intangibles and the personality. Everything's there. It's just a matter of time and repetition, biding his time in the Minor Leagues and getting better."
The skipper also doesn't see any hangover from the injury that robbed MLB.com's No. 3 overall prospect of last year's second half.
"There's nothing he can't do on the field," Linares said. "I saw him in big league camp a lot, and there's no ill effects from the injury last year. That's good. Since he's so young and growing into that body, the sky is the limit for the kid."
After struggling to a 9.74 ERA in 12 starts with the JetHawks a year ago, Houston's No. 2 prospect Appel found a comfort zone after his late July promotion to Corpus Christi, putting up a 3.69 ERA in seven outings. Appel followed that strong showing with another in the Arizona Fall League, going 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in seven starts for eventual league-champion Salt River.
"Mark showed up toward the end of the year, and during the Fall League, you saw what he's capable of doing," Linares said. "There's no question in my mind Mark's ready. He's ready for the challenge, and he's ready to move on from what happened last year. I expect him ... every time we give him the ball, to go out there and compete and be Mark Appel."
Four more players in the Astros' Top 10 will start on the Hooks roster -- third baseman Colin Moran (No. 6), outfielder Teoscar Hernandez (No. 8), left-hander Josh Hader (No. 9) and right-hander Lance McCullers (No. 10)
Dodgers and Drillers: For the first time since 2000, the Dodgers are back in the Texas League. In September, Los Angeles became just the third parent club in Tulsa's 39-year history after Texas (1977-2002) and Colorado (2003-2014). The Dodgers' new affiliation with Triple-A Oklahoma City means that the state's two Minor League franchises share a parent club for the first time since 2002. The Drillers' change was the only affiliation movement in the Texas League among the 21 player development contract changes around Minor League Baseball over the offseason.
New looks in old places: Lone Star State stalwarts San Antonio and Frisco unveiled new logos, uniforms and branding identities for 2015. With both looks designed by firm Brandiose, the Missions' logos and threads pay homage to the Alamo and Texas state flag while the RoughRiders have gone with a Teddy Roosevelt-centric theme. The changes follow on the heels of Arkansas' rebranding ahead of the 2014 campaign.
Prospect you have to see in person: Julio Urias, Tulsa LHP -- Just 18, Urias will bring his advanced stuff and mature approach to ONEOK Field. MLB.com's No. 8 overall prospect possesses an electric arsenal featuring a fastball that touches 96 miles per hour as well as a plus curveball and a plus changeup. Urias was the youngest pitcher in full-season ball last year and could be the youngest in the big leagues in short order.
Series you need to watch: Midland vs. Northwest Arkansas (April 9-11 at Midland, April 16-18 at Northwest Arkansas) -- The reigning Texas League-champion RockHounds will import a load of power from last year's Class A Advanced Stockton team in sluggers Matt Olson (Oakland's No. 1 prospect), Renato Nunez (No. 4) and Ryon Healy (No. 25), a trio that combined to hit 82 homers in 2014. They could face stout Naturals arms such as right-handers Sean Manaea (Kansas City's No. 2 prospect), Miguel Almonte (No. 5) and -- if he can get and stay healthy -- Kyle Zimmer (No. 3).
Last things last
Here's a look at some significant lasts around the Texas League.
- Last season's championship: Midland over Tulsa in five games MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last back-to-back champion: San Antonio, 2002-2003
- Last perfect game: Martin Perez, Frisco at Arkansas, April 19, 2011 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last no-hitter: James Needy, Frank Garces and R.J. Alvarez, San Antonio vs. Corpus Christi, July 30, 2014 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last 200-strikeout pitcher: Sid Fernandez (209), San Antonio, 1983
- Last cycle: Zach Borenstein, Arkansas at Springfield, April 20, 2014 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last three-homer game: Lane Adams, Northwest Arkansas vs. Corpus Christi, Aug. 13, 2013 MiLB.com Coverage »
- Last 30-homer hitter: Matt Fields, Northwest Arkansas, 31, 2013